Growing up, Ben Sanders had always been interested in government, so much so that he moved from Manitoba to Ottawa shortly after graduating from high school to work as a Page in the House of Commons. But he came away a bit disappointed. "I think I came into that naively thinking I was going to see government act quickly; however, what I saw instead, was how the decision-making process in government can be really slow". Sanders decided to change his career path, entering an undergraduate engineering program at the University of Waterloo. “I worked on some really cool projects where big groups of people were able to get some incredible ideas off the ground”, says Sanders. “I worked with BlackBerry. I worked with NASA and the Canadian Space Agency to help get the shuttle back in space. I am drawn to solving big, complex problems, where they can only be accomplished when you get a lot of people rallying behind them”.

After graduating, Sanders had the opportunity to work in Silicon Valley with two different start-ups. “In the first, we changed the restaurant game by using tablets to order and pay without having to wait at restaurants. We did that before tablets were even a thing”. The iPad hadn't been invented yet and Sanders and his team were running into Steve Jobs and showing off their tablet, explains Sanders. “It was kind of a cool moment. The second start-up I co-founded was a company called Clearbanc. It was also launched in San Francisco but has since relocated to Toronto. One of its co-founders is now a judge on the Dragons Den show and just raised $120 million dollars. They're doing some really cool stuff to help accelerate businesses that struggle with cash flow. So, in those experiences I learned how technology and software in particular can help to be this massive accelerator for changing the world”.

After his stint in the Valley, Sanders returned to Canada to help the Yukon Territorial government build a tech ecosystem. “They had identified a need to shift the economy from one that focused on mining to a more knowledge-based economy”, explains Sanders. “So now I was back in government, but this time I had all of this experience solving problems with technology. Unfortunately, the challenge I struggled with was that every time I wanted to do something twelve people had to sign off on it. What was worse, every time I created a briefing note and handed it to my boss it was gone and I lost track of it. Sometimes, it would get stopped on someone's desk and they were on vacation for three weeks and nobody would notice. This is how the idea for Proof came about – from this personal experience of feeling that frustration inside government. I put together a team to solve that problem”.

“Typically, the way government approaches a project like this is to spend six to twelve months to understand the pain point, consulting with a lot of people to map out the process and then another six or twelve months going through an RFP process to find a vendor to build a solution. In many cases, a big blue chip software provider might try to adapt a solution that was really built for the private sector into government, and that often doesn't work out very well. It's expensive and takes a lot of time. The other way government might approach the problem is to have local developers build something custom from scratch. What tends to happen here is they don't invest enough money to get the product all the way developed so they end up stuck using something that's half-built for the next ten years before it is ever upgraded”.

“What we're doing that's different is we're offering all the benefit of the developed solution but at a tenth of the cost. We're building one single product for many governments so that we can keep the cost down by pooling everyone's money into building one solution that works really well. This is ultimately a subscription-based model”, says Sanders. Proof allows governments to instantly track the status of all its approvals, closing bottlenecks and allowing prioritization of those that are urgent or overdue. Every touch point is time-stamped and associated by name and a complete history of all changes is recorded for each file along with document revisions and approval sequence, including the ability to add inline comments. Proof works within the existing workflow, which helps to increase adoption, and most importantly immediately starts to deliver value. Too many of today's technology solutions force employees to change the way that they work to get the maximum benefit from the tool. Sometimes, it's justified, but that means that there is a transition or adoption period where you are sub-optimal, and worse, there is a chance that employees abandon the platform delivering marginal benefits since there is only partial engagement.

“One of the challenges to any organization, including the government”, explains Sanders, “is embracing failure in order to become better. I believe organizations that are more innovative and more open to experimentation are the ones that succeed. We need to find a way to make it easier for governments to try new things with fewer barriers. Secondly, procurement rules in government are tied to legislation that's 20 or 30 years old. It doesn't account for the modern world of cloud technology. So, the way procurement is set up is stifling a lot of innovation. As a result, the government ends up spending a lot of extra time and to build a solution that they buy once, and never updates again, quickly becoming stale”.

But despite these challenges, Proof has several reasons to be optimistic about 2019. “I think one thing that's really exciting is Ontario is on the map for us in 2019 because of our involvement with the Creative Destruction Lab and TechStars. We have established a presence here in Toronto and we're hiring. Of course, Ontario is home not only to the biggest provincial government but also the federal government and we're starting to do some work with both. We expect we will roll out to our first full provincial government in every department in 2019. Being here in TechStars and the Creative Destruction Lab, we're getting approached by many top Canadian and international investors and one of the greatest benefits of being here is the access to an incredible talent pool”, states Sanders. “And so, I think this is going to be a really exciting time for us”.

But most of all, Sanders is enthusiastic about the opportunity to make a real impact that will enable governments to work better for the people. “A third of global GDP is spent by the government – that's incredible. For every dollar we cut on red-tape and paper-based processes, that's a dollar we can invest in the programs that really matter like our kids' education, healthcare for our families, and cutting taxes to create jobs. There's such a massive opportunity – that's why we're excited to be working in government”.

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May 13, 2019

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